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Updated: June 8, 2010, 2:01 AM ET

Draft day is something you never forget

By Bobby Valentine
ESPN
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It was 1968, and I was just a high school kid. The MLB draft wasn't on television back then, and there wasn't much information readily available to sports fans, but there was a lot of attention on me during my junior and senior years, much like there was Bryce Harper, this year's No. 1 pick.

There were rumors flying that I would be drafted high. The New York Mets had the No. 1 pick that year, and the New York Yankees had the No. 4 pick. I'm from Stamford, Conn., so I grew up a Yankees fan. I anxiously awaited the phone call from a team to notify me that I was drafted. It came late in the evening, and it was from Fresco Thompson, then the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was proud to tell me that they had picked me as their No. 1 choice. I was the fifth pick overall in the draft. I was ecstatic, but I was also disappointed because I really wanted one of the New York teams to select me.

[+] EnlargeBryce Harper
AP Photo/Jae C. HongBryce Harper won't soon forget his draft night. All these years later, Bobby Valentine hasn't forgotten his.

As so many of these high school players experience, I was travelling around the country talking with college coaches trying to figure out where I was going to go to school. I played two sports, and I was actually going to get a football scholarship to play at the USC. Ironically, when I was being recruited, there was a guy who came up to me and wished me the best in my future. He gave me a transistor radio and it had "Dodgers" written on it. I had to swear not to tell anyone where I got it. It turned out that that guy was Tommy Lasorda; he was scouting at the USC-Stanford baseball game I was watching. Later, I would pass up college and jump into the professional ranks and guess who my manager was? Tommy Lasorda.

Once I joined the professional ranks, as an 18-year-old, I checked into a hotel in Osman, Utah. I happened to wake up my roommate, whom I figured would be really excited about meeting the No. 1 draft choice, but he had just come from being a college All-American player in baseball and football at the University of Houston and he had just wrapped up play in the College World Series. Instead of being excited, he was really upset that I woke him up. That was Tom Paciorek. Since then, he's become a lifelong friend.

All of these experiences are things these future professional players of today are going to have to deal with. The people they are drafted with, the people who are jealous of the fact that they were drafted ahead of them and the people they have to compete with during the years are all going to impact to their lifes.

Tim Foley was the No. 1 pick in the 1968 draft. He had an illustrious career and was probably the best player of the first 20 taken.

I also had the good fortune of being kind of connected at the hip with the No. 4 draft pick, Thurman Munson, who was taken by the Yankees. I happened to play against him in a college league in Cape Cod the year before he was drafted. I thought he was the best player I had ever seen. When I saw he was selected only one draft pick ahead of me, it really did a lot for my ego.

Bryce Harper is in a unique situation. He's earned his GED, but he's only 17 years old. I'm sure there were as many players excited as disappointed by the phone calls they received tonight as there were in 1968 when I was drafted. The guy who was most disappointed when I was drafted was Bill Buckner, who was a second-round draft pick of the Dodgers. He couldn't figure out why anyone in the country got drafted ahead of him. I think that was one of the motivating forces that drove him in the minor leagues. Every day that he went out on the field, he wanted to prove scouts wrong that he should have been the Dodgers' No. 1 pick. I remember those early days and how hard I prepared. I thought I was going to conquer the world, and there were so many new and exciting challenges every day. I learned how to take a road trip and pay a hotel bill. I dealt with success and failure, and how to stay out of fights. It was quite an experience.

You'd like to think that you just get drafted as Stephen Strasburg did a year ago out of San Diego State and you automatically know everything that lies ahead, but there are many high school kids who are going to face situations that I faced, that feeling of being thrown to the wolves. You have to thrive in a very competitive and sometimes cut-throat world. Hopefully all these kids getting drafted out of high school and college will be as fortunate as I was to have a coach that is caring and knowledgeable about how to accelerate their careers.

Bobby Valentine is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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